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December 19, 2014

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Twitter helping to get the word out

Using messaging service, officials can reach out to the public at the speed of … type

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Twitter, the latest craze in the world of instant communication, is being adopted by a group of users not known for their speed: government bureaucrats.

The people in charge of public outreach at Clark County and North Las Vegas say Twitter — a service that allows users to send short messages to Internet-friendly cell phones and similar devices — will enable them to distribute news and information more quickly than ever.

Imagine a summer thunderstorm has flooded the Charleston Boulevard underpass at Interstate 15, closing the street. Tap tap tap on the keyboard and presto, the news is flashed out to everyone who has signed up to get the county’s Tweets.

Erik Pappa, who is in charge of how Clark County communicates to its residents, says Twitter, whose popularity is growing exponentially, is the fastest way to reach people — even if these news flashes are limited to 140 characters.

“You want to reach people in a way they are comfortable with,” Pappa says. “You can try to communicate with folks using television, radio and newspapers all you want, but if they’re more likely to pay attention to what’s on Twitter, then that’s where we need to be.”

Plus, it’s free.

On Wednesday the county used Twitter to announce the annual spring cleanup at Spring Mountain.

Pappa says it could also be used to release news to the media during emergencies, such as last year’s Monte Carlo fire.

Clark County and North Las Vegas join some 700 governments worldwide that have turned to Twitter to communicate with their constituents. People can sign up for the county’s Tweets at twitter.com/ClarkCountyNev, and register for North Las Vegas’ Tweets at twitter.com/CNLV. Signing up for Twitter takes about two minutes and requires nothing more than an e-mail address.

Twitter users come from all walks of life. President Barack Obama has a Twitter page (but he probably doesn’t write his own). Other Twitterers: John McCain, Penn Jillette and Britney Spears.

Several local media outlets, including the Sun, allow readers to follow headlines via Twitter.

The service, created in 2006, has rocketed into the pop culture consciousness. It’s estimated about 6 million people have signed up, although the company does not release figures.

Twitter users were the first to report a plane landed in the Hudson River this year and Tweets have become a staple of campaigning.

In the past week:

• The Securities and Exchange Commission began using Twitter to send news to investors.

• The FBI arrested a man in Oklahoma City for Tweeting threats to kill people at an anti-tax rally.

• A San Francisco Giants pitcher who blew a game was criticized for having spent the previous night Tweeting.

By the end of Wednesday, more than 90 people were following the county Tweets, learning that Commissioner Steve Sisolak scheduled a community meeting in Searchlight and being directed to the county Web site for information on swine flu.

North Las Vegas has 44 people receiving Tweets about a section of Centennial Parkway closing and updates on union contract negotiations.

The service, officials say, will not replace existing Web sites and newsletters.

“We just want to find other ways to reach our residents,” says Brenda Fischer, director of general services and communications in North Las Vegas. “We can put the information out there and get people to the Web site.”

Metro Police also uses Twitter — and Facebook and YouTube — for communications and recruitment.

(Clark County and North Las Vegas also maintain profiles on the social networking site Facebook.)

A Henderson spokeswoman says the city is considering entering the social networking world soon.

Las Vegas does not have any official social networking sites.

A recent Nielsen survey showed three out of five users who sign up for Twitter drop out by the second month.

“There’s a debate about how useful it is,” Pappa says. “But it’s free and doesn’t require much effort. There’s no risk.”

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